Laser Applications in Photovoltaics

Photovoltaics (PV) is undergoing a dramatic expansion as a number of drivers have fallen into place. These include increased energy prices, concern for energy security, and the threat of global climate change. In the United States, for example, a number of states have adopted aggressive renewable portfolio standards that compel utilities to generate a significant fraction of their electricity from renewable sources.

PG&E, the utility for northern California, has committed to 1.65GW of PV [1]–30% of the 5.5GW world production in 2008 [2].

This growth has driven scaling of production, which in turn drives down manufacturing cost in a predictable manner. PV has followed an 18% learning curve (manufacturing cost drops 18% for each doubling of cumulative production) for 30 years [3], and First Solar has reported costs of $0.98/watt [4]. It is possible to buy silicon modules as low as $2.06/watt today [4], prices that will further fuel expansion.

In this climate, the industry seeks all efficiency improvements consistent with high throughput at low cost, and this has led to the adoption of lasers in a number of important PV manufacturing processes. The effect of even small efficiency improvements cascades through the entire system: higher efficiency translates to fewer modules, lower installation costs, less land use, and the ability to afford improvements that further increase generation, such as tracking.

Here, we survey both the applications where lasers are used to make both wafer-based silicon solar cells and thin film (TF) panels, and some of the new applications that may emerge in the near future.

(Continue reading at Photovoltaics World)

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